Not all that long ago ASUS was looking for a name to put on their top-of-the-line products. They sent out an e-mail to journalists, enthusiasts and customers (some of which fell into all three groups) asking what we thought this name should be. The overwhelming choice was Republic of Gamers. To be honest with you, it was the only real choice (the other one was bad enough that I do not even remember it). From that day forward, if a product had the ROG logo on it you knew you were getting a top notch piece of hardware.
But as with most things, you have to have balance. As such, at least in the motherboard world, ASUS decided to break up the ROG line into three levels. The Extreme holds the very top end, while the Formula hangs out in the middle and the Gene is the lower end. The Formula differs very little from its Extreme cousin; you get a slightly smaller heatsink and cooling system. You drop off some of the beefier VRM and power supplied to the board, and you also lose the Bluetooth module.
Of course, you are still left with a pretty versatile and powerful board and for a reduced price of only $299.99 from NewEgg.com. Now we will dive into the middle of the ROG pool and see if the water really is fine.
The Box and What's Inside
Package and Contents
As this is an ROG product (and part of the Rampage line), the box is the now familiar shade of red with the sunburst on the lower right corner. This is not an unattractive packaging.
Of course, no motherboard maker would allow so much valuable real estate to be wasted, so they have opted for the front flap to make sure that you get the right marketing information on the front of the box. Interestingly enough, the information here is actually stuff you would want to know about and that makes the board more interesting to the consumer.
ASUS also gives you the now obligatory view of the board inside. From the look of things, it should be an interesting product.
The back of our Rampage III Formula box has more marketing about the board itself. Again, this is not a bad thing, but at times it can be overdone. A couple of items that are "nice" additions are the SupremeFX X-Fi 2 audio and the Intel LAN.
The loot is pretty good on the RIIIF (Rampage III Formula), as you would expect from an ROG motherboard. You get some high quality SATA cables, a USB/eSATA bracket for the back of your case, the ROG connect USB cable, Tri-SLI Bridge and a fan for the heatpipe cooling system. This is there in case you use water cooling as it will aid in maintaining healthy temperatures during normal use and of course overclocking.
In all, this is a pretty good haul and a well-designed packaging for what we hope is a well designed product.
Looking at the Rampage III Formula, you can see the hints of its big and little brothers in its design. However, after those hints are out of the way you begin to see that this board has been worked from a different angle than either the Extreme or the Gene.
As you can see from this image, the RIIIF has the same board mounted buttons that are found on others in the ROG line. These buttons are solid and reliable and are also fairly well located for use on a test bench. A little lower you can see another flat press button and a jumper. These are friendly to overclockers; the jumper is the QPI_PLL jumper and this handy little jumper helps to stabilize the QPI voltage during overclocking, while the "Q-Button" allows you to temporarily stop power to the board if your CPU has frozen under a large dose of LN2. This button is used in conjunction with the LN2 jumper which is not visible in this picture.
Looking at the 1366 CPU socket from above, we can see that the FPCAPs present on the Rampage and Maximus Extreme are missing, but that ASUS has not put shoddy components here either. You are still getting some high quality solid capacitors and chokes. I was a little surprised to see the X58 chipset visible under the heatsink. This makes me concerned that we might have some cooling issues later.
In the image above you can see the 8-pin aux 12 volt power connector and my usual pet peeve in ATX motherboard design. This one is not too badly placed as far as connectors go; at least it is a little more open than many. Also visible are two 4-pin fan headers.
Here we see one troubling item and two that are a sign of potentially good performance. The troubling item is the four-pin Molex connector. This is just a little too close to the PCIe x1 slot. When we attempted to install an audio card here it rubbed against the Molex connector. The two items that might be a good sign are the Intel LAN and the VIA Audio.
The RIIIF can support both three-way SLI and three-way Crossfire. To support this you have three x16 PCIe slots on the board. However, again, despite the fact that they are x16 mechanical, they do not always perform as fully x16. According to ASUS, if you want to run standard SLI or Crossfire you need to use slots One and Three. Both of these will then operate at x16. Once you fill that third slot, well, then the only slot that will run at x16 is slot One. The other two will drop back to x8 each.
Looking at the other side of the lower half of the Rampage III Formula (say that five times fast) we see a nicely stylized heatsink along with the dual BIOS chips and the BIOS switch which lets you move between the two saved BIOSes.
On the back end the I/O ports are nothing new to most boards or to the ROG line up especially. The Bluetooth module and header is missing, but you can see the vertically mounted USB port and press button for ROG connect.
Overall I like the layout on the RIIIF; it shows some thought and effort put into the design and component choices. I have some concerns about the board level cooling when overclocking, but those could be simply due to the chipset packaging peeking out under the heatsink.
BIOS and Overclocking
The BIOS on the RIIIF is (of course) an AMI BIOS with ASUS customizations. On all of the ROG boards the typical AI Tweaker is replaced with the Extreme Tweaker page. This page also becomes the landing page you hit when you enter the BIOS.
As you can see from the images above, the Extreme Tweaker page lets you get pretty deep into the workings of the RIIIF. The PWM Volt Control is a nice touch and by adjusting the driving voltage to get more out of your board (although you should have good cooling when you do that). You can also change the frequency of the PWM if needed to help prevent crosstalk at high speeds.
Inside the Extreme Tweaker page are a couple of submenus that allow extended control over the RAM and CPU (although the CPU page is a duplicate of another page in the BIOS).
If you are one of the few that are only interested in getting the highest clock you can out of the RIIIF, then ASUS has put in a short cut for you. On the On-board Devices page there is a simple setting to turn off all of the extras. This can let you get additional MHz out of your CPU and RAM without all of the extra systems to get in the way.
In the power settings there are the usual ASUS fan profiles available for the multitude of fan headers on the Rampage III Formula.
Under the tools menu we find a few fun items like the ASUS OC Profile, BIOS FlashBack, and Drive Xpert. The last item is the Go Button page. Here is the profile that is available to you as a "Quick OC" when you press the Go Button.
As with all of the ROG boards we have played with, the Rampage III Formula was very easy to overclock. It was so simple that we very quickly had things running at 4.4GHz (176MHz x 25). We did try to push things a little further, but it was not possible with our current cooling. We were able to get the system to post at 4.6GHz (184MHz x 25 but running any of our tests caused the CPU to overheat quickly and fail.
We also noticed that the Northbridge got hot very quickly under this load. If you are really looking to push things, you can, but you will need to bring some good cooling to the table to do it.
You can see the validation for the Rampage III Formula here.
The RIIIF sees the return of the TurboV EVO software. However, it is once again bundled in with the AI Suite. This was annoying at first, but after tinkering with things for a while I began to like it. From a simple toolbar you can choose the application you want.
From there you are knee deep into the TurboV software. ASUS has cleaned up the UI for the ROG series as there is not much need for an auto overclocking setting. Instead you have the CPU LevelUP screen which as you see can quickly get things going for you.
Once you have tired with the CPU LevelUP screen you do have the advanced flavor of the TurboV. Here you have almost every option you could want with the exception of being able to change the memory multiplier. This is still a component that is missing.
Still, this is about the only thing that was left out. Overall it is still a very complete, clean and easy to use Windows based overclocking software.
The RC TweakIT software is one of the things that makes the ROG line up really stand out from the rest of the market. It is the ability to control the overclocking settings through a remote system with a USB connection. This software is as complete as the TurboV EVO software, possibly even more so as it includes the ability to power on, off, reboot and even clear the BIOS all from that one system.
While you are booting the system you can also view the POST (Power On Self-Test) that happens. This can let you identify a problem caused by overclocking very quickly.
Of course, the RC TweakIT is about more than just being able to remotely turn your system on and off. It is also about getting the most from the Rampage III Formula.
Beneath the sliders which allow you to change the BCLK and a fairly large number of voltage settings are the monitor pages. These are there to show you what is going on under the hood on the Rampage III Formula.
As all overclocking results are dependent on the hardware you use, your results may vary. Results of our overclocking tests are included in the performance section with the stock scores.
Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.
Test System Setup and Comments
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment Intel, ASUS, corsair and Sceptre.
As with the overclocking, the setup of the Rampage III Formula was a snap. After the installation of Windows 7 x64 we simply dropped the installer DVD into the drive (after turning off User Account Controls). This presented us with the typical ASUS driver DVD ROM options. From there you can choose to install the drivers one by one or use the InstallALL utility.
You can also do the same thing for the Utilities page (although I do wish there was one installALL for the lot). Here you have the new AISuite II as well as the Sound Blaster X-Fi MB2 software to add the X-Fi touch to the VIA Audio. The X-Fi software can give you "better" audio when gaming or when listening to other audio, if the game or player you are using supports it. So it is kind of a hit or miss offering.
There is even a page with videos if you want to watch someone else overclocking a motherboard...
ASUS really does have an easy to use board here from the layout right down to the installation of drivers and utilities.
Synthetic Tests - Part I
With any system you will want to see a combination of synthetic testing and real-world. Synthetics give you a static, easily repeatable testing method that can be compared across multiple platforms. For our synthetic tests we use Everest Ultimate, Sisoft Sandra, FutureMark's 3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage, Cinebench as well as HyperPi. Each of these covers a different aspect of performance or a different angle of a certain type of performance.
Memory is a big part of current system performance. In most systems slow or flakey memory performance will impact almost every type of application you run. To test memory we use a combination of Sisoft Sandra, Everest and HyperPi 0.99.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2010c 1626
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Product Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Buy It Here
The RIIIF has some very impressive stock memory scores. It manages to jump ahead of the rest of the group by a decent margin. During the overclocking testing the RIIIF dropped back quite a bit. Of course, we cannot put too much stock in that because every overclock is different. Still, we do wonder why the drop in score is here as it did not seem to have any issues with memory when we pushed it.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.00.1035BETA
Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com
Product Homepage: http://www.AIDA64.com
Buy It Here
Replacing Everest in our labs is AIDA64. This new testing suite is from the core development team from Lavalys and continues that tradition. The guys have thrown in better support for multithreaded CPUs as well as full 64 bit support. We use this to test memory and HDDs for now, but may find ourselves opening this up to other areas of the motherboard.
Here we find a discrepancy; the Sandra score shows us losing speed when overclocked while AIDA64 shows the opposite. We will need to keep an eye out on the rest of the scores to see if we can verify one score or the other. We are certainly hoping that the AIDA64 scores are accurate.
Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Download It Here
HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components, the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.
For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 and the four physical cores of the i5 is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.
The HyperPi score at stock speed is great. Unfortunately the overclocked score points to something that might not be good news. It is more in line with the Sandra scores than with the AIDA64 scores. However, this is only one test; we will have to see what the rest of the scores show.
Synthetic Tests - Part II
Disk Drive Controller
The system drive controller is an important part of system performance. In most modern boards your drive controller will run off of the PCI-e bus. The PCI-e bus performance can be affected by poor trace layout as well as many other design choices that show up on different boards.
For testing we use Sisoft's Sandra and Everest.
The RIIIF did not impress us with its HDD speed. At stock speeds it was slower than the others in the grouping. However, the overclocking run shows a much higher score. In fact, it is around 4MB/s faster. Although this is not a large margin, it is significant for our purposes here. Still, this is not something you would probably notice in day to day usage.
AIDA64 does not match the scores we saw at all. They are almost the opposite. With AIDA64 we saw certain aspects of the scores drop after overclocking. While with Sandra we saw the score speed up; very interesting.
Synthetic Tests - Part III
Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.
Version and / or Patch Used: 22.214.171.124
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage. This is run in both x86 and x64 mode to give the best indication of performance.
If you are anything like me you are completely confused at this point. The Stock scores I get, but the overclocked scores are very unexpected. With the memory and HDD scores we have seen I would not expect a second place showing behind the UD9!
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
Buy It Here
For synthetic gaming tests we used the industry standard and overlockers bragging tool 3DMark Vantage. This is a test that strives to mimic the impact modern games have on a system. Futuremark went a long way to change from the early days of graphics driven tests to a broader approach including physics, AI and more advanced graphics simulations.
3DMark Vantage uses the DX10 API in addition to having support for PhysX. As we are no longer using an NVIDIA GPU for testing you will only see the CPU based PhysX results in the scores. For testing we use the Performance test run.
With 3DMark Vantage the RIIIF did outstanding. It tops out both the stock and overclocked testing groups. This is a good sign as it could mean the RIIIF is an excellent gaming board.
Cinebench R11. x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5 x64
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: www.maxon.net
Download It Here
Cinebench is a synthetic rendering tool developed by Maxon. Maxon is the same company that developed Cinema4D, another industry leading 3D Animation application. Cinebench R11.5 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your systems ability to process OpenGL information.
The Cinebench results are also interesting. The stock scores are very good and only fall .01 points behind our fastest stock board (the Sabertooth X58). However, the overclocked score is right at the top. Again this is unexpected given the RAM scores and the HDD scores. We are beginning to think that we have counter balancing scores there. Sandra could be more accurate in testing the HDDs, while AIDA64 might have a better handle on the memory. Let's take a further look to see.
Real-World Tests - Part I
Real-world testing allows us to see how well a product will perform when used in the same manner as it would be in your house or office. It is an important side to performance testing as it can uncover hidden glitches in the way a product performs.
It is especially true when testing a mainboard; there are so many components of a board that have to interact that any problems between parts can cause a failure of the whole.
For real-world testing we use some common applications and functions. We test with LightWave 3D for rendering performance, AutoGK for transcoding from DVD to AVI and two games for gaming testing.
Rendering of 3D Animation is a system intensive endeavor. You need a good CPU, memory and HDD speed to get good rendering times. For our testing we use LightWave 3D. This software from Newtek is an industry standard and has several pre-loaded scenes for us to use.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9.6
Developer Homepage: http://www.newtek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
Buy It Here
The LightWave scores would seem to lend credence to our theory that the memory and HDD scores are being handled differently by the two different tests we use. We will have to keep our eyes on these two in future reviews to see if we see similar results.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Download It Here
AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into an easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or Divx format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
Once again our real world testing shows that our synthetic workloads were possibly off in their estimation of performance. As with LightWave, we see AutoGK scores that are very good. The RIIIF seems to have a solid backbone to work from.
Real-World Tests Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose use multiple cores and GPUs. They are able to stress the system through use of good AI. Both have decent positional audio that adds impact to the sound subsystem of the board. We ran each game through the level or parts listed and recorded frame per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.
*** A word on gaming as a motherboard test; ***
Despite the fact that most games are very GPU limited, we are still noticing HDD and even audio creating issues in gaming performance. Because of this you may see differences in the number of frames rendered per second between different boards. Usually the difference is very small but occasionally, because of bad tracing, poor memory or HDD performance this difference is significant. The issues are often more prevalent in older versions of DirectX but can still pop up in DX10 and 11.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (DX9)
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: First combat until the school is cleared
Developer Homepage: http://www.infinityward.com
Product Homepage: http://modernwarfare2.infinityward.com
Most of you know about the game Modern Warfare 2; it caused quite a bit of controversy in the latter half of 2009. The game is a first person shooter with a heavy combat emphasis. It follows the events in the first Modern Warfare very closely and brings back several characters from the original.
As with most games in the Call of Duty franchise, it features a heavy AI load. This is not because of a complex AI routine, but more due to the sheer number of enemies in any given combat situation. It is also our single DX9 based game in our testing suite. Settings are shown below.
The results here are interesting in that they show a very odd trend. In many cases overclocking the CPU seems to have an adverse effect on the gaming performance. This is a trend we are seeing more often and one that would seem to be the opposite of most thinking. At stock speeds the RIIIF does great with MW2, although again if you saw it you would not be able to pick it out of a lineup.
Far Cry 2 (DX10)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: Clearing the Safe house through to the Rescue
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com
Product Homepage: http://farcry.us.ubi.com
Far Cry 2 is a large sandbox style game. There are no levels here, so as you move about the island you are on you do not have to wait for the "loading" sign to go away. It is mission driven, so each mission is what you would normally think of as the next "level".
In the game you take the role of a mercenary who has been sent to kill the Jackal. Unfortunately your malaria kicks in and you end up being found by him. Long story short, you become the errand boy for a local militia leader and run all over the island doing his bidding. Settings we used for testing are shown below.
Far Cry 2 shows us more of the same; solid stock performance and a drop when overclocked. The RIIIF does well here at stock speeds.
Battlefield Bad Company 2 (DX11)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: From washing up on the beach to the mine fields.
Developer Homepage: http://www.ea.com/
Product Homepage: http://badcompany2.ea.com/
Battlefield Bad Company is another sequel and also another game "franchise". Bad Company 2 is also our DX11 Shooter game. The game follows a fictitious B company team on a mission to recover a Japanese defector. This puts you back in World War II (at least for the beginning of the game) while the multi-player game is centered on much more modern combat. For our testing we used the single player mode. Settings are shown below.
Aahh, now the results are all over the place. We have an overclocked board at the top and the stock RIIIF at the bottom. However, all of the minimum frame rates are well above the 28-32 mark, so you would still get good gaming from any of these products.
There is not much to say about gaming at this point. The RIIIF is a good gaming board that has some very gaming oriented features. These are things like the X-Fi software, as well as the Game First QoS software. These two cannot be measured in the testing we have done here as they are both very subjective. Still, they combine with the results we saw here to make a good product even better for this type of use.
Power Usage and Heat Tests
We are now able to find out what kind of power is being used by our test system and the associated graphics cards installed. Keep in mind; it tests the complete system (minus LCD monitor, which is plugged directly into an AC wall socket).
The ASUS Rampage III Formula does well when it comes to power draw at stock speeds. Things do break down when we really push the board, but that is to be expected.
As a new measure, we are now monitoring the heat generation from the key components on the motherboard; this being the Northbridge, Southbridge (if it contains one) as well as the Mosfets around the CPU. The results are recorded at idle and load during the power consumption tests.
Heat is much more worrisome; at stock speeds we still see more heat generation than I would have liked. We suspected this when we saw the rather small heatsink for the X58 Northbridge.
The Rampage series of motherboards is a very solid line. We have taken a look at all of them now. From the Extreme to the Gene; they are all great products. The Rampage III Formula is no exception. We found it easy to use and quite agile when it came to performance.
On the overclocking side of things we had some odd results. For some reason we had incorrect readings from two different tests that gave an impression that when overclocked the RIIIF lost both memory and HDD performance. Fortunately for us we do not rely on synthetic tests alone and quickly found out that the RIIIF is more than capable of performing when overclocked. Our 4.41GHz clock is one of the best ones that we have gotten on our Core i7 980X.
But the RIIIF is not just about overclocking; ASUS has made sure to throw in features for the gamers out there. These are items like the SoundBlaster X-Fi audio software as well as the Game First QoS management tool. When you add these with the remote overclocking tools and excellent component choices, it really does add up to the $299.99 price tag from NewEgg.com.
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